Beats Per Minute caught up via Zoom with Adam Mills, drummer of Portsmouth quartet Hallan, to talk about music making, posh Parisian flats, touring, music tastes, and tracks on their newly released EP, The Noise Of A Firing Gun, which is out via Nice Swan Records.
Each song can come from a different place so the common answer for how our music ends up as it is is that Conor is an absolute songwriting machine. He will just send us track after track after track and when he does it, it’s a little bit more poppy/indie and doesn’t quite have the Hallan-edge. You can tell it could be a Hallan song quite easily and then through rehearsals or stuff like that it gets what we would say is “Hallanfied” and that’s where a bit of the grit and the edge comes from and then It tends to be the final versions of songs are built through the shows because we will be playing a song for ages and then in a rehearsal or in a gig and one of us will do something and all of us kind of look at each other and go, “that was cool.”
There are some songs that we have now that have different little sections or verses than when we recorded them. Like in “Sich Übergeben” there is this little bit at the end, a little fill with some crash and I think I wrote that two weeks after we recorded it so when I hear the recorded track now, it winds me up because I want that bit to be in it.
Bass is always something that adds a bit of grit, because our lovely Joshua Tweedale, our bass player, has some good effects on his pedal board that kick into gear when you have a big PA system. Connor records in his bedroom and it will just go straight into Logic and he is happily plugging away but then Tweedale has his picks and downstrokes and good effects on his pedalboards. He is going to hate me for this but I think he uses a Big Muff, a Silver Tongue, and Boss Overdrive, I’ll probably get a slap on the face for saying those but I feel like that’s what he uses. He doesn’t really change much and then he just chucks the chorus on for certain songs to add something different to it so it’s not all just distorted, gunky bass.
Connor and I always have conversations about the style of things and I think that’s a big part of what makes Hallan, Hallan. Even the way we write posts on Instagram: there’s a certain phrasing to it and it is difficult to pin down but we like to look back at history and different aspects of human life. We used to look a bit more modern times at the mundanity of just existing at the moment that is quite different to how everyone else has had to exist before and probably will exist after us. Every generation thinks that but at the moment we really have enjoyed looking back at history and saying that everyone at the moment, for a long time has just sort of written songs about girls and boys and getting pissed with my mates or “I don’t like the government” and that’s great, but they are already out there so if we started doing that, I think we would kick ourselves for just becoming another one of the onslaught.
We always chat about the intellectual side of music. We like songs, we get the story out of it, if it’s factual or not, and the story can be quite interesting. Sometimes the content of the lyrics matches with the music, sometimes it doesn’t. I think that’s a big focus for us is that we don’t just want to be here writing love songs and indie pop ballads. If we can create a five minute tune about some German artists that you’ve never heard of and you go and look at it, then we have done what we were here for.
Origin of the songs on the EP…
The oldest one is actually the most recent one that’s come out: “The Colline Gate”. We had been playing that at shows for I want to say about a year and a half now. And that’s one of those ones that we had the demo for, like another seven, eight months beforehand. It was a lot of dance, which doesn’t seem like it’s possible when you hear the song but what I would say was more of a clean dance so it was very “Blue Monday,” very snappy, without much grit on it. Then through the years of us playing it, then we got the Roland SPD, which is the Roland trigger pad and then the sirens and the samples started to come out and it became the song it is now. Even the lyrics for that, Connor wrote some amazing ones, about the actual Colline Gate, which is this place in Rome. The vestal virgins were buried alive beneath the Colline Gate if they were thought to have sinned, and so you don’t get many poppy dance tracks that are about being buried alive. So that is where we like to fit ourselves: into those slots.
Then “A Womanly Face of War” came out of Connor, when we were on tour, I want to say maybe April last year, something like that. He was reading the book “A Womanly Face of War” and he was showing me and the other guys and again, we always love having chats about history and what we think could be a really interesting idea for a song and how we can make it the least bit radio friendly. That is not really a song idea you hear much: the Soviet female point of view of World War II. With the book and all its content, you could get some really good, interesting segments of it. I think that song has a lot of content in it that some people just sort of brush over and don’t quite realize exactly what it’s about. Especially when we wanted to release it. We had a bit of pushback from the label and management because they thought it was an anti-feminist thing at first like the face of war is not a womanly one and might get a bit of trouble with that but they just hadn’t looked into what this song was about. It is literally almost the complete opposite of that. That’s why the book’s named what it is. It’s not a womanly thing. It’s war, but women can be part of that. I think that is why those two were chosen as our singles because they had the most to say, and I think we executed it the best way it could be done.
“Cut With the Kitchen Knife” is about a German artist called Hannah Höch from the early 1900s in the Weimar period when the whole German film industry was going crazy with stuff like Dr. Caligari. She was known for the photo collage and cutting up different images to create new images, which was obviously quite impressive at the time and worked well for Germany trying to rebuild themselves in that era. She quite literally was taking old work from the old German era and recreating new work with it. Connor loves doing photo collage and a lot of our artwork has come from that style. So when the subject of her came up, and we sort of looked at some of the artwork, and there was this one, “Cut With the Kitchen Knife”, that really stood out: I think he just sort of ran with that. That again was one that he wrote and then we built to have this big halftime bridge section just in a rehearsal and then that became part of the song but he didn’t originally write that.
Then “Sisyphus” is the only other one and that is the EP closer and that’s a Hallan favorite. We love playing that live. All the others are a little lighter. “Unwomanly Face of War” and “The Colline Gate” are very dancey and “Cut With the Kitchen Knife” is the most popular one on the album that feels like, as we would say, a “real song” but it has still got that electronics samples and everything going on that makes it sound like us.
“Sisyphus” is the one that’s a bit more old school and a bit more guitar rock punkish. Obviously “Sisyphus” is the Greek myth of the man rolling the boulder up the hill. We have always been sort of lumped as more, especially in our eyes, as the underdogs because it’s important when we were starting out it was indie pop bands and solo acoustic art. We had a few indie songs on Spotify back then, like 2018 and then we go absolutely mental onstage and then a solo acoustic artist would come on afterwards and standstill for half an hour.
So some people stopped booking us for shows so then we started going a bit punky and we kept getting emails back saying, “sorry, we don’t book punk bands.” We couldn’t even get shows in our hometown, we get more shows in Brighton in London than we do in Portsmouth. So we’ve always kind of been like, people kind of just go, “oh, yeah, these guys are good” but then they have not seen us live, and they’ve not given us a chance. So we’ve always kind of felt like we were pushing to put ourselves in front of people and really show people what we can do.
That’s why when the whole Sisyphus thing came around, and we were like that, yeah, we identify as Sisyphus, so we really enjoyed sort of translating that into music and being able to go crazy on it was really fun, especially on the drums. Because that song, I wrote the drums for that in a lunch break of the EP recording session. We said it’s going on the track. I think both the Joshs, guitar and bass, learned how the song was played in the studio, because we had it for such a short amount of time and I still hadn’t worked out the drums. So whilst everyone was having a lovely little sit down on the lunch break, I sat there sweating headphone buckets. I think it worked out the best because I was excited by what I was playing rather than having to overthink it.
Then on the mix sessions as well, which Jonathan Hawkes is the producer, he’s done all the mixing and additional production for this. He is mainly based in London and Liverpool so we thought rather than traveling, we trust him to execute that and we sit on a Zoom call, he shares the audio and then he goes, “give me two minutes” does what we thinks we want and he plays it to us and we go, “yeah, that’s perfect” or adjust from there. I remember being on a Zoom call until about 2am with him finishing “Sisyphus” and then Connor and I had this idea that in the final chorus and breakdown we wanted background noise of battle siege ambience. If you really listen, you can hear it but it is so low in the mix, but it’s just the clanking of metal swords and whole armies shouting and horses, and it works really well. So that is what we like to do, chucking something in a song that doesn’t really need to be there but we think it works. Sometimes the best parts of songs are the least musical parts that no one actually is focusing on. That’s what stops it from just being an empty, void pop song that anyone could reproduce at home without having to think about because they know the chords, they know the notes, they play it and it’s done.
It is why we love Joy Division and if you listen to Unknown Pleasures, half of that album, even the band didn’t know what was going to be on that album because the producer Martin Hannet was just going crazy with recording a lift and breaking bottles and then adding reverb to it and you listen to the album and if you strip back every part of that album that isn’t the band playing, it would sound like a completely different album.
On 80s influence…
Something that we’ve always said as well is that when it comes to making music, you can tell when certain bands either have one person with 100% creative control, or if all of the members like the exact same music. With us, if you were to look at our individual Spotify wraps at the end of the year, sometimes they line up depending on where we’ve been, who’s been listening to what but quite often than not, we all have one or two shared and everyone else has their own individual styles of what we like listen into. Like me and Connor love more the Bob Dylan-esque, George Harrison. The Beatles have interesting lyrical content over beautiful melodies and these really well built songs. But then also Tweedale, our bass player, likes a bit more of the heavy stuff, if you will, the pop punk. I’m a massive fan of Talking Heads, Velvet Underground. Then also at some points we’ll all sit in the car or listen to 90s dance tracks.
So it overlaps, but I think a lot of what we’ve been listening to collectively is everyone’s been taking little bits here and there of that sort of 80s indie, pop, New Order, that sort of style Pet Shop Boys, where it’s it’s almost so cheesy it hurts but a minute into the song you’re singing along your heads bopping. I think that’s been a big focus for us as we don’t like staying stagnant for too long. So who knows where it’s going. The idea of the demos we’ve got at the moment are leaning a little bit more poppy than you’d expect from us but I think again, that’s just because we only had the demo versions of the songs. Once we played it a few times. And we’ve got audience reactions from what songs work and what songs don’t as well. Things get added, things get changed, the distortion gets turned up and becomes a bit of a different soul.
On playing live then recording…
There’s something quite nice that when you write and get new songs and you start playing them and you get a nice reaction from them, it really gives you that boost to be like, okay, okay, we’re not, we’ve not completely thrown the last couple of years away and decided we want to do something that no one enjoys, right? You can kind of relax a little bit and know that the only thing that’s going to make it not sound good is us, us playing it.
On their fans…
For the last maybe 12 months, I’d say, we’ve been gaining a lot more fans, which is good but I think that’s just because we’ve been getting put in front of crowds a lot more than we had for a while, especially obviously, we’ve locked down. We’ve always said we’re a live band and so if you want really become a Hallan fan, you can listen to us or you like on Spotify, in your car, wherever but you really start to enjoy us once you see us on the stage playing the songs because that’s where we enjoy listening to them well.
We always see familiar faces and recently we played The Great Escape Brighton. We were originally a bit worried because we thought we had a sort of a bit of a graveyard shift playing at 12:30 in the afternoon on the third out of the fourth day of the festival so everyone’s gonna be hungover and no one’s gonna be out of bed till three in the afternoon but before the doors even open at 12, we had a queue down the road. We were really happy with that and there were people who had come to our London shows on our tour, people that we haven’t seen for six, seven months so you have those sorts of interactions.
But we do have our little hardcore group of Hallan fans that I think we have about 12 months ago, they started a Facebook fan page for us. It’s a few of the people that we’ve seen in London and Bedford a few times and had a few nice long chats when they started it and it’s the it’s called Orwells Tache – Hallan Fan Group, This is back in the era when, though mine is not as strong because I’m blonde, but three out of four of us had mustaches. So it was always a very Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band but it was in the Orwell era as well. And obviously Orwell is famous for having the little mustache as well so I think that’s where that came from and we’ve got a few hundred fans in there now so it’s always nice to see when you when you play a big show that is sold out how many people then afterwards are posting photos on the fanpage from different areas and a few people message on the fan page and they ended up having a little group of five or six people that are only there with each other because they’re part of our fanpage, which seems crazy.
We’ve been getting a fair amount of interest internationally as well, which I think, for us, personally, is one of the most fun things about where we are at the moment. If you go back five years before any of us really joined the band, and you said, “are you going to have done a French tour, you’re going to Switzerland, Portugal, and more on the horizon, I think we would have laughed and just be like, “fuck off”. And now to sort of say, we’ve done that, and we’re being invited back by the people that are over there, especially in Paris. When we played last August, we met some really lovely people who are promoters at the venue.
Actually quite a funny story, the person we stayed with in Paris, the only reason we stayed with them is because they saw us in London at the Dream Bags and we put on our story just being like, “don’t suppose anyone’s got a spare floor we can sleep on for a night or two in Paris because these hotels are looking a bit pricey” and a person just popped up and said, “of course, you can use mine no problem” and we were expecting this dingy little Parisian apartment, just shove us in the corner with our sleeping bags and we’ll be fine. We turned up and he handed us his flat keys and it is this lovely apartment. He said “there is a double bed in my room, the sofa bed, a mattress on the floor. Now I’m going back to spend my birthday in Paris and staying with them again. So that’s what being in a band and playing the drums can do.
It never stops, it never stops. We did a two week, 12 Show tour at the start of April. In the 15 days we were out we had three days off. One after we played Newcastle we stayed at Connor’s auntie’s in Glasgow because we had Glasgow and Edinburgh the day after. Then we had Easter Sunday and Easter Monday off and then straight back to it a week through. It was the longest we’ve ever done. I think we all by that end of the second week really could feel that it was the longest one we had ever done. It was probably the most responsible we’d ever been. It was the least we had ever drunk on a tour. We did those two weeks then, a bit of a break. Then we had The Great Escape and Awakening Festival.. That was a long day.
Hallan’s The Noise Of A Firing Gun EP is out now on Nice Swan.